Unproven scorers coming through early for Michigan

When Michigan captured the 2010-11 regular-season title, the Wolverines did so with an offense that was off its game. Louie Caporusso — who had netted 21 goals his junior year — ended the season’s 44 games with 11 tallies, all of which came in batches. His classmate, Matt Rust, finished down eight goals from the season before. Sophomore Chris Brown dropped from 13 his freshman year to nine.

Only Carl Hagelin, who had produced 19 goals in 45 games his junior year, was on pace with his 18. Scooter Vaughan, a defenseman turned forward, became a scoring hero with his 14 goals, 12 more than he’d scored as a blueliner the year before … and 14 more than he scored in either his freshman or sophomore campaigns.

Through the first 10 games of the 2010-11 season — the end of the first weekend of November — the Wolverines averaged 3.3 goals per game. That number didn’t change much through the season as Michigan struggled to score by committee and, like Caporusso, in batches; the Wolverines brought the 16th-best offense in the country to the national championship game, averaging 3.2 goals per game.

This season, with offense coming from every line, the Wolverines are averaging 4.88 goals per game, second in the nation.

Wolverines coach Red Berenson said he’s a little surprised by how quickly the offense has coalesced this year.

“Last year, we had proven scorers trying to score that couldn’t score,” said Berenson, “and this year we’ve got unproven scorers that are scoring. I think that’s good.”

Good, indeed. Four freshmen have netted one-third of Michigan’s 39 overall goals while the junior class is accountable for 15. Seniors Luke Glendening, Greg Pateryn and David Wohlberg have nine between them. Glendening has four goals in eight games, half his career-best total in 44 games last season. Pateryn has two goals; he had three in 40 games in 2010-11. With three goals in eight games, Wohlberg may reach the 15 he had in 37 contests last year.

“They’re trying to prove that they can score,” said Berenson, “particularly the young freshmen. [Alex] Guptill’s come in and scored, and Zach Hyman’s playing as well as any of them, and he might only have one goal but he’s contributing, and … [Phil] Di Giuseppe, he’s playing well, and so on, so all the freshmen are helping our team.

“And then you’ve got the upperclassmen. They’re setting a good example, and then we’re getting some scoring from our juniors. It’s no surprise that Brownie [Chris Brown] is going to score, and we’ve got to get Kevin Lynch scoring and so on, and A.J. [Treais] has been terrific.”

Junior Lindsay Sparks leads the team (5-6–11); he has one more goal in eight games this year than he had in 17 last season. Treais, whose scoring picked up in the second half last year, has five goals, four shy of his season total in 42 games played in 2010-11.

In short, the Wolverines are getting production from every line, from every class. Even two of the three sophomores currently skating have chipped in a goal apiece.

Said Berenson, “I think we’re realizing that we’ve maybe got a better balanced offensive team this year than we had last year.”

And the best defense takes a hit

Heading into last weekend, Ferris State was undefeated and sporting the best defense in the country, allowing 1.67 goals per game.

Then we learned what happens when the nation’s toughest defense meets one of the country’s hottest offenses. After 5-2 and 4-0 losses to Michigan, Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels had enough perspective to make a little joke.

“I knew we weren’t going to go 36-0,” he said. “It was just one of those good gut feelings.”

It was a hard weekend for the Bulldogs, who in six games had given up two goals just once, with three shutouts to their credit. The nine goals dropped them only to a tie for fifth in defense nationally, and their average of 1.75 goals per game isn’t so bad.

Even with the four goals he allowed in the Saturday shutout loss, freshman C.J. Motte has a .948 save percentage and 1.25 goals against average. The rookie from St. Claire, Mich., has two shutouts in four games and played well in spite of the goals Michigan scored. Daniels is convinced, though, that Motte can play even better.

“I think there’s some things he can do in terms of making life easier on himself,” said Daniels. “Him being young, he can play the puck pretty well, but sometimes when he played it he kind of created some of his own issues. It’s something where, I think, given time, we’ll be able to coach to his strengths and we’ll be able to do some things that will allow him to play the puck more.

“Three games don’t make a career, and one game won’t make a career, either.”

Motte and senior Taylor Nelson (2.26, .908) have split time evenly in net. “It’s a real positive competition between the two of them,” said Daniels.

The goaltenders may be the last line of FSU’s defense, but the Bulldogs have some pretty good corpsmen in front of them. Gone are Zach Redmond and Scott Wietecha, but Chad Billins and Brett Wysopal, both seniors, lead an experienced blue line.

“We played a third of the season last year without Redmond,” said Daniels, “so guys that are playing in our top five saw a lot of minutes last year. In that group, there’s four seniors and a sophomore, so we’re a pretty veteran group in the defensive corps. And then, obviously, the goaltenders have played very, very well for us — I mean, really well.”

Daniels said he likes his team’s chances this season in no small part because he likes the team. “I do really like this team a lot. I really like the kids. I like the makeup and the personality of the group.”

That makes it easier to regroup in Big Rapids after two losses in Ann Arbor. “It doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose, but now it’s a really good learning opportunity,” said Daniels. “It’s hard to be on the edge when you’re winning. Now we can all reevaluate and get back to some hard work.”

A little perspective? Please?

When Michigan junior Chris Brown greeted the press after the Wolverines’ sweep of the Bulldogs, he began with something I found very curious:

“When we take the underdog role,” said Brown, “especially when we play in our home building, we can do anything.”

The underdog role? The Wolverines? In Yost Ice Arena? I had to know.

“Ferris swept Miami last week, and Miami’s kind of been like our arch-nemesis for the past couple of years,” Brown explained, “so to have them do that, it’s kind of like a shell shock a little bit, kind of bring you to step up and play, and we did that this weekend.”

Ah! So there was math involved! Of course I didn’t get it at first. Michigan is 3-7-0 against Miami since these seniors were freshmen (2008-09).

Then there were some comments that Berenson made that had me puzzled. “It was a good weekend for us. Those were games we had to have,” he said. “We had to establish ourselves at home and get back in the conference race, and I thought we did that. Penalty killing got better. I think we took a step this weekend.”

See, I saw Michigan as a team with one loss heading into the weekend. Berenson, though, saw the Wolverines as a team with an 0-1-1 record in conference play.

Berenson’s comments show that he’s instilling a hunger for league glory in his team and not seeing the conference play merely as a means to an NCAA-berth end.

When rumors lie

For over a week now, I’ve been getting messages about Michigan sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill, who’s been suspended from the team. The rumors have been interesting — and I won’t traffic in them here, except to make one point:

Don’t believe everything you hear.

Primarily, I’ve been told repeatedly by people who said they absolutely knew that Merrill had left the team.

Well … this week we learned through official channels that Merrill is still a Wolverines player. Berenson issued a statement Tuesday saying that Merrill has been “reinstated to participate in team activities” as of Nov. 1. “He will resume practice with the team,” said Berenson in the statement, “but remains suspended from game action indefinitely.”

Merrill’s 12-game suspension for violation of team rules was announced Oct. 1.

When rumors are the whole truth

And sometimes, getting confirmation of a quirky little rumor can make your whole day. I’m still smiling about this one.

During the offseason, before the National Collegiate Hockey Conference decided on its far-reaching name, those involved were calling for the formation of a so-called super conference.

That’s when I heard that Daniels — upon hearing this himself — said, “Maybe we should call ourselves the Super Duper League.”

“Yes, I did,” said Daniels when confronted with this delicious little rumor. “I said that.”

And he said that I could say so, on the record.

Super duper!

Players of the week

To be clear here, these are the CCHA’s official players of the week. I haven’t named players of the week — although I think that would be a fun thing to do. Since the CCHA has all of these categories covered, does anyone have a suggestion for a new category?

And another thing. At the start of the season, I wrote about how Gongshow Gear is sponsoring the CCHA’s rookie of the week award. I also promised you that I would never again refer to a player as a Gongshow Rookie of the Week. I plan to keep that promise — and I only write the corporate name because I’m leading to another point.

Last week, the league announced a new partnership, this one with Gladiator Custom Mouthguards — hence the league’s new Gladiator Defenseman of the Week award.

OK. So “gladiator” seems more appropriate than “gongshow” as an adjective for a hockey awards category, but let’s be clear about this: Neither of these big corporate sponsors is sponsoring this column. After this explanation, you won’t see their names in print here again unless and until they sponsor me as well.

If the offensive POTW and GOTW find sponsors (and don’t you think they feel left out at this point?), I’ll simply refer to this column by way of explanation.

Rookie of the week: Michigan’s Di Giuseppe, who had two goals and two assists in the Wolverines’ sweep of Ferris State, which had the No. 1 defense in the country heading into the weekend.

Offensive player of the week: Michigan State’s Lee Reimer, who had a hat trick and four assists in the Spartans’ home sweep of Robert Morris. Reimer, a sophomore, leads MSU in scoring (5-6–11). He had two goals in 29 games last season.

Defenseman of the week: Ohio State’s Devon Krogh, who had three assists as the Buckeyes took five points from visiting Alaska, keeping the Nanooks to two goals. Krogh, a junior, was instrumental on the Buckeyes’ penalty kill, which went 13-for-14 in the two games.

Goaltender of the week: Buckeyes senior Cal Heeter, who recorded his fourth career shutout Friday, with a weekend 0.96 goals against average and .968 save percentage.

My ballot

Yes, it looks different from last week. For one thing, I remember to include Notre Dame, whose exclusion last week was a total oversight on my part. For another, well, things are in flux.

1. Boston College
2. Michigan
3. Minnesota
4. Western Michigan
5. Ferris State
6. Colorado College
7. Notre Dame
8. Merrimack
9. Lake Superior State
10. Quinnipiac
11. Boston University
12. Michigan Tech
13. Minnesota-Duluth
14. Denver
15. Northern Michigan
16. Union
17. Nebraska-Omaha
18. Clarkson
19. Maine
20. Ohio State